Corbyn comfortable as Smith struggles to land his punches
‘I’m the tall one,’ Owen Smith shouted when the lights suddenly went out at the Labour leadership hustings in Gateshead.
It was a rare dramatic moment, and one of very few instances when one of the two candidates clearly differentiated himself from the other, amid two hours spent paraphrasing one another’s policies.
Smith has clearly realised that Europe is his strong-suit, and he went on the attack when asked how he felt on the morning of 24 June — describing himself as ‘gutted’ with the result and ‘disappointed’ that Labour hadn’t done enough to win the referendum.
While Jeremy Corbyn shares the prime minister’s view that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and called for cooperation with socialist partners across Europe to ensure the protection of workers’ rights and environmental protections, and to maintain access to European markets for British goods.
Smith, in contrast, does not think that Britain is necessarily leaving the EU, and says that the outcome of Brexit negotiations should be put to the British people who, if the deal isn’t good enough, can vote against it.
For Corbyn, foreign policy remains his key area of difference and he stuck to his strong messages on Trident, conflict and arms sales, with arguments that Smith acknowledged were moral but dismissed as idealistic and naive.
Beyond that, there was little between the two candidates in policy terms and the clash was one again around electability.
Smith maintained that only he can combine power and ideals, while Corbyn (with the vocal support of his half of the audience) blamed Smith and his former shadow cabinet colleagues for Labour’s unpopularity in the polls.
Both reiterated their pledges on investment, the NHS, job creation, education, gender equality and public services, but the discussion was flat and uninspiring on both sides.
This is a much bigger problem for Smith, who is simply not making enough progress up the mountain he has to climb.
For Corbyn, even average performances at hustings like tonight’s will consolidate his core support.
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